Lauren Christine Howe

Department of Psychology

Motivated Reasoning and Public Distrust of PollsĀ 


A recent poll on public opinion of surveys concluded that 75% of Americans believe that polls are biased (Kantar, 2013). But why and when do Americans distrust polls? Past research on motivated reasoning in scientific evaluation has shown that people are critical of scientific research when its conclusions support a view with which they disagree (e.g., Lord, Lepper, & Ross, 1979) or are otherwise threatened by the information conveyed (e.g., Kunda, 1990). Thus, this study will investigate whether motivated reasoning plays a role in the American public’s interpretation of polls (e.g., whether people distrust polls more when they disagree with the results of the poll), and whether providing additional information can affect whether or not motivated reasoning occurs. We will also look at specific sources of distrust (whether people see researchers as biased or making mistakes) and whether this differs based off of a person’s prior beliefs about an issue.